HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban police detained several dissidents on Tuesday and thwarted an unauthorised political protest, dissidents said, in the first major test of US President Barack Obama’s policy shift toward normalising relations with the communist-ruled island.
The US State Department condemned the detentions, which marked the most significant crack-down on the opposition since Cuba and the United States agreed on December 17 to restore diplomatic ties and put behind more than five decades of hostility.
About 12 opponents were taken away by police, including the husband of opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez, while several others were told not to leave their homes as police parked outside, said Elizardo Sanchez, leader of a dissident human rights commission that monitors such detentions.
Other dissident leaders reported multiple detentions or that activists were ordered to stay at home. Yoani Sanchez’s website 14ymedia.com reported she was under virtual house arrest.
The detentions stopped a plan-ned open microphone event at Havana’s Revolution Square, near the government headquarters.
Event organiser Tania Bruguera, a performance artist, was missing and her associates presumed she, too, had been detained. Bruguera had vowed to go ahead with the event even after Cuban officials denied her a permit.
The event flopped, with only 15 participants, surrounded by a phalanx of reporters. A parallel event in Miami called by Cuban exiles drew 50 people.
Cuba had called the open micro-phone event a “political provocation”, and it was unclear how long the dissidents would be held. Cuba typically holds dissidents for several hours and releases them.
“Freedom of expression remains core of US policy on Cuba; we sup-port activists exercising those rights and condemn today’s detentions,” tweeted Roberta Jacobson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.